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Column 903Opposition. But if his scheme is simply an attempt to divert those who are regarded as the lower classes by Conservative Members on to Mickey Mouse training, if he is simply saying, "We want the best for the chaps and chapesses from the public school system, but anything will do for the kids from the inner-city areas," he will receive no welcome from the Opposition.
The Secretary of State makes comments such as :
"do you want driving your car someone who has only passed a written examination?"
I do not want someone driving my car who has had only practical experience and no training whatever. That would be ridiculous. He says :
"who do you want as a foreman on a construction site, someone with good practical and people skills or someone who could write a good essay on the construction industry?"
If the Secretary of State denigrates the type of education that makes our construction workers properly qualified, he is foolish. Let me quote from someone at the sharp end at one of the very good colleges of further education to which the hon. Member for Lancaster referred a few moments ago. Almost as if in response to the Secretary of State's silly remarks, one of the critics of the current system of training, a college lecturer, said that a young NVQ-qualified craftsman could build a brick wall, but
"because he had never been told about the effects of freezing weather on water, he would not know what to do when it was cold." He went on to say that the wall would probably fall down in a couple of years. I agree with what that lecturer said.
I remind the Secretary of State that there is a need for theory as well as practice. Of course we want practical skills. The Government have sold the practical side of the nation down the river for the past 15 years. However, we must upgrade the general level of education of those who become the practitioners in industry. That is what the Secretary of State seemed to denigrate in his launch. I hope that he will think again if he is serious about education and training in construction for our young people.
Miss Widdecombe : The hon. Gentleman cannot accuse me of not responding to him. He has consistently referred to what he describes as Mickey Mouse training. Will he tell me how a syllabus devised not by the Government but by the industry, independently assessed and drawn up on the basis of good practice, can be a qualification deserving of the title "Mickey Mouse"? Will he please recognise that there are those who, while not benefiting from the academic route, will nevertheless, like their German and Japanese counterparts, benefit from a competence-based work route? That is what NVQs are about. Will he please welcome them and respect the industry that has drawn them up?
I refer the Minister to a study conducted by Professor Prais and others who considered NVQs and concluded that they were not terribly good. The university of Manchester
Column 904also carried out a study of NVQs and concluded that in many cases there was an over-concentration on--I cannot remember the Minister's exact words--what is, in effect, self-assessment. The teacher decides whether the student, apprentice or learner has made progress and, in accordance with the Government's preferred method of assessment, is then measured by output funding. It is a nasty little world, but a Government who praised Westminster council should not have too much difficulty with the concept of people cheating, which is what happened under that system. That is what devalues NVQs.
If the Minister thinks that what I am saying is merely proof of the nasty Opposition being beastly to the well-meaning Government, let me cite Mr. Martin Pollard. He is the chief executive of the joint council between employers and unions in the electrical contracting industry, so his comments are highly relevant to the debate. Mr. Pollard said that one of the problems for young people undertaking the TECs' two-year courses is that they find jobs as electricians although they have not-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Minister, having asked a question about the quality of NVQs, is talking to the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), and does not want to listen to the answer. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) can tell her the answer later. Oh, it is very decent of the Government Whip to leave the Chamber.
Mr. Pollard said that some training and enterprise funding councils were funding two-year courses and releasing trainees to find jobs as electricians, although they had not reached the required standard. He continued :
"In fact the only position in which they could be employed is that of a labourer--surely a waste of two years' training."
It is not only a waste of training but a massive waste of Government money and of the lives of these young people.
I visited the construction site of a very good development in my constituency. One of the senior people there said that, when he takes people from Government training courses in the construction trades, he finds that he has to put them back in the classroom. People who have undertaken a two-year Government course are being told that their bricklaying or other skills are not up to scratch and that they must go back to the classroom. They do not earn the money that they had expected to earn, so they say, "Sorry pal, I'm off," and they decide to take a job elsewhere--if they can find one. They may have difficulty doing so because their skills are not adequate. That is an example of the problems created by the Government.
The Government are directly responsible for the failure outlined by Mr. Pollard, an independent industrialist.
Miss Widdecombe rose --
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) rose --
Mr. Graham : Some time ago I mentioned to one of the Ministers the case of a young constituent of mine who had been training to be a plumber. The training shop was shut and he was thrown on to the dole without having finished his course. However, the Secretary of State for Scotland told the House that we badly needed to spend more than £5 billion on improving water and sewerage services. We shall desperately need plumbers and construction workers,
Column 905but the Government are not willing to provide money for training in Scotland because they have cut funding by more than 33 per cent.
Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) makes an important point. He makes the case that we shall certainly need those skills and that is not in doubt. I shall come directly to that point on a United Kingdom basis in a moment.
One of the staggering things that we confront in Scotland is that, as my hon. Friend says about one of his constituents, young people are treated in a shoddy way. Yet we learn that the Secretary of State, who has announced his apprenticeship scheme, has not the clout in the Cabinet to take that system north of the border. The apprenticeship system on which the Government are pinning the future skills of the nation will not apply in Scotland. My hon. Friend is right to be incensed.
Mr. Lloyd : Well, there is a difference of opinion on our Front Bench, which one gets now and again in a healthy, democratic party. I had not thought of it before, but my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde tells me that the scheme is seen as so sub-standard that the Scots do not want it. Even the Secretary of State for Scotland has apparently rumbled the Secretary of State for Environment and does not want the scheme. I thought that it was because the Scots were being deprived. I now learn that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not think that the commitment will be there, that the money will be there or that it will be there to provide the quality training that we ought to have.
If the Secretary of State for Scotland does not want the scheme, we must doubt the reason why it has been foisted on those of us in the rest of the country. Does the Minister want to give way?
Miss Widdecombe indicated dissent.
Miss Widdecombe : When I said it was not true, I was referring to the incredible degree of waffle, imputed motivation and knowledge of what goes on in Cabinet, which the hon. Gentleman does not have. I was also saying that the hon. Gentleman is getting more ludicrous by the moment. Madam Speaker agrees with me : we should get back to discussing the order. May we discuss the training levy for the construction industry and not Scottish NVQs?
Mr. Lloyd : I am a little surprised. I thought that when I gave way the Minister wanted to tell us whether she knew that the system would apply to training and to the construction industry among others in Scotland. It is clear that she has not got a clue. The Secretary of State is in the Chamber. I wonder whether he knows. I undertake to keep talking for the time it would take him to get to the Dispatch Box. It appears that the Secretary of State does not know whether the scheme applies in Scotland.
Would it be possible for the House to adjourn until the Prime Minister came along to tell us whether he knows? Perhaps we could even get the Prime Minister to the Scott inquiry to tell us whether he knows anything about the sale of arms to Iraq, anything about Government policy on training--
There is a central question about whether the apprenticeship model will apply to construction trainees in Scotland. It seems as if the cavalry is about to come with the news. Does the hon. Member for hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) want to break the news to the House himself, or would he prefer to convey it to the Minister? We seem to have a problem in inter- departmental consultation. It seems to be a case not so much of Fabian of Scotland Yard as of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
If we consider the construction industry and the situation as evidenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde in his constituency, and then consider what has happened on a national basis to the number of trainees in the construction industry, we find that the level of employment in the industry has plummeted. In 1990, when the foolishly manufactured boom of Lawson was still at its height, there were nearly 1.9 million people employed in the construction industry. By last July that figure had dropped down to only 1,392,000. In other words, about 500,000 construction workers had lost their jobs in that two-year period. That is a staggering loss both of employment for those individuals and of our economic base. It is a staggering leaching of the nation's skills.
I have something else to tell the Minister and again she will not know whether it is right or wrong. The industry on a reasonably accurate forecast reckons that, for every two construction workers who leave the industry during a slump, only one returns.
Mr. Lloyd : I will tell the Minister about that. A couple of weeks ago I came by taxi to the House. The driver of my minicab was a very nice man and I talked to him about his background. He told me that he used to run his own construction company but, unfortunately, he was one of many victims of the recession. He hates this Government. He lost his business and his employees were all made unemployed because of the Government. He is now driving a taxi and he hates it. He resents the fact that he is a skilled man yet cannot use the skills that he has acquired over the years to work for those who want him to in his chosen trade. Instead, he is taxiing around, like many other people. Yes, the Minister is right, some people find
Column 907jobs they find jobs as taxi drivers or in the McDonald's sector of our economy. They do not find skilled jobs in construction or in manufacturing, because that work has gone and in many cases gone for good.
In a little over two years, a quarter of the construction labour force disappeared. We should stand back in amazement at that and show at least a little sympathy for the individuals involved and for our economy. At the same time the number of apprentices in the construction industry slumped. In 1990--the year that I cited for the peak in employment--there were 77,000 apprentices in the construction industry. By last year, the figure had virtually halved to 43,000. That is no great tribute to the skills revolution that the Government claim is taking place. It simply shows an industry that regards training for the future as an avoidable expense when the going gets tough, in this case directly because of Government policy. In no sense is the level of skills being maintained. We have lost permanently about 250,000 skilled workers and we have not even begun the process of replacing them through the industrial training schemes that we are discussing. The Minister should apologise to the House for that.
I do not want to be over-critical of the industry training board.
Mr. Lloyd : Because it would be unfair to shoot the messenger when the people responsible are sitting behind the Government Dispatch Box. Sir Clifford Chetwood, the chairman of the construction industry training board, wrote in the foreword to the 1991-92 report--the most recent one available :
"It is therefore with some satisfaction that, by judicious use of reserves and by the application of a range of counter-cyclical measures, CITB has been able to maintain training at an acceptable level during this period of deep recession in the industry." I am sorry to say so, but Sir Clifford is being complacent, given that the number of apprentices in construction has virtually halved. We know that one of the problems facing the CITB is that its revenue has been cut during that period. As businesses have ceased to trade and as people have left the industry, the sums coming into the construction industry have been cut by £8 million. Last year the level of spending in the industry was about £52 million ; this year's spending will be down to £43 million. That is a significant fall. That goes a long way to explain why there has been the cut in the number of people gaining training in the construction industry, which we think they should have.
The Government are simply incompetent in their ability and desire to plan. They were forced, because of the demands from within the industry--one or two Conservative Members were part of the process of lobbying--to retain the Construction Industry Training Board. I am happy to pay tribute to the role that they played at that time. It was recognised that the Government's ideological approach to training--that we do not want national bodies and do not need any national mechanisms for planning--was wrong-headed. The industry said that.
In the end, even the Government, dogmatic and pig-headed as they normally are, were forced to listen to what the industry said. In the end, grudgingly and against
Column 908the desires of the ideologues on the Government Front Bench at the time, the Government accepted the role of the CITB. But they have never accepted the need for the CITB to act in a counter-cyclical manner. When there is an upturn again in the economy, we shall see an increase in wage costs, for example, as happened between 1981 and 1990, when the industry increased the number of employees by some 250,000. Wage inflation became a significant part of the construction industry at that time. It was a damning critique of the incompetence and failure of the planning mechanisms that the industry was allowed to get into that position.
It may be bold and unwise to do so, but let us speculate that the shoots of recovery have at last appeared and that one of the industries that will pick up is construction. We would once again have skills shortages throughout the construction industry of a kind that will not easily be picked up by the present training board policies.
That is the central failure of the training board structure that we currently have. The Government are not committed to it. They will not finance it properly and will not let the industry finance its training properly. That is why we will have wage inflation within construction when there is any kind of pick up within the industry. Although I welcome every new job that is created--let the Minister understand that the Labour party welcomes that--we do not welcome the incompetence of a Government who have failed to plan for the future. Reference was made earlier to colleges of further education, of which there are some 400 in England. Some 40 have stopped their wet trade construction courses over recent months. The reason for that is twofold. It is in part because the trainees are simply not coming forward, either through the CITB or the industry. There simply are not the bums on seats. The other reason comes down to the Government's so- silly view of the educational process. They paraded with great pride and pleasure the creation of a market in education. The effect is that further education colleges, squeezed for money, have made decisions. They have decided to withdraw from high-cost courses that are resource intensive, such as construction and some of those in the manufacturing skills, and instead have opted for low-cost courses, sometimes courses such as English. That is welcome and I am not denigrating those courses, but I am dismayed that one in 10 of our colleges of further education has ceased to provide resource-intensive courses.
Will the Minister tell the House whether she has any views on who will train our young people in construction skills if those courses no longer exist in further education colleges? I do not know who will train the next generation. It becomes a serious problem.
The central point of the debate is that it is because the Government consistently underfunds the CITB, because they do not have a credible approach to training within construction, that the Opposition intend to divide this evening on the two orders. We must make it clear to the Government that they are simply not providing the money nor the effort necessary to maintain training opportunities. I have been in the House for some years and I have participated in debates on previous training orders. Today is the first time in my memory that we have sought to divide the House on the issue. We shall do so to make our protest public.
Column 909The time has come to tell the Government that they can no longer get with their rhetoric about training. Each new Secretary of State launches his or her new scheme, but a couple of years later each new system fails.
According to any reputable measurement--that discounts anything produced by central Government--and any international comparison, Britain is falling short when it comes to providing intermediate vocational qualifications. A recent report showed that 63 per cent. of workers in Germany have intermediate vocational qualifications, either technical or craft qualifications. Nearly two out of three German workers have a vocational qualification and a further 11 per cent. have a degree. The German economy is based on a high level of worker education and skills.
In Britain, the number of workers with university degrees is rougly the same, but only one in four people have vocational qualifications. We are falling far behind the Germans, the French and the Japanese. Conservative Members may still believe that we are witnessing a skills revolution, but that is not what is happening in the British workplace.
Miss Widdecombe : Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many national vocational qualification equivalents the Labour Government introduced? What did his Government introduce as an equivalent to training and enterprise councils? What did his Government ever do to bring about a training revolution?
Mr. Lloyd : That is a good question and like all good questions, it has a good answer. The Minister should cast her mind back to when the apprenticeship system was still alive and training our young people.
Mr. Lloyd : I agree that that lack has always been a problem and a black mark against our training system. I intend to ask the Minister a specific question about the number of women trainees in construction. I hope that she intends to make progress on that issue.
The Minister asked me what happened to promote training before the Government came to power. Critical as we are about the collapse of training in construction, because of the Government's lack of commitment to that training board's structure, the fact that that board exists has offered protection to the industry. Despite that, however, the number of trainees in construction is half what it was in the years 1981 to 1990.
There were 56,000 apprentices in the construction industry in 1979, but by 1993 that number had dropped to 43,000. Roughly one quarter of apprenticeships were lost. In 1979, the number of trainees in the print industry was 2,767. By last year that number had fallen to 380. That is an incredible reduction and its' relevance must be obvious to hon. Members.
In the early 1980s, the Government abolished with a flourish the Print Industry Training Board along with the other industrial training boards. The Government argued that they had to be abolished because they were not fulfilling the role desired by the Government. According to the Government White Paper published in 1988, "ITBs had not succeeded in raising the standard and the quantity of training in the sectors they covered to the level of our major competitors.'"
Column 910Since then, in those industries where the Government misguidedly abolished training boards, training has collapsed. [Interruption.] The Minister laughs with mock scorn. When the printing industry training board was abolished, the number of trainees dropped from 2, 767 to 380. The Minister does not think that is a collapse. The Government have sabotaged training, skills, the skills stock and Britain's future in the printing industry--which, of all industries, needs high skill levels.
I come from a family of three generations of printers. I was brought up in a family in which it was common to recognise the love that my own father had for his skills as a printer. The Government are dismantling that tradition. For the Minister to laugh places her and the Government in the right context. This is an anti-training Government. This is a Government of industrial destruction. This is a Government of political Luddites, who have smashed our infrastructure and left little for young people in industries such as printing and construction.
Although training has been badly hit in the two remaining boards, the number of trainees has only halved. In industries where boards were abolished, training has effectively been dismantled.
Miss Widdecombe indicated dissent.
Mr. Lloyd : The Minister shakes her head. In printing, one trade union put up £1 million to run a school of excellence. The European Community was prepared to make available £1.5 million to back that project and Salford local authority in Greater Manchester made a prime site available for the school. Some employers also wanted to put up money, but the employers collectively could not get their act together. The printing industry loses by that because, when an upturn arrives in that sector as in construction, we shall see again the skills shortages that bedevil this country every time that the Government lead us from bust to a temporary pick-up in the economy. The Minister's laughter is the laughter of a Government who have neither the sense nor the compassion to understand the problems. Even though the Government did not want to talk about construction and engineering construction industry training and have made almost no comment, this debate provides others with an opportunity to express their views. We have had the opportunity to bring the Minister to her feet on other occasions, but she has not answered particularly constructively to questions about the construction and engineering construction industries.
I will ask the Minister one or two questions that I hope she will find easier to answer, since they were posed by her predecessor when the CITB review was completed and the board was told that it could continue another five years. At that time, the Government devised a number of tests. The CITB had to set a target for participation by ethnic minorities and women in youth training schemes. What progress has been made? Can the Minister encourage us to believe that there is realisation of the need to encourage ethnic minorities and women to enter an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated?
Column 911I am not sure that I understood the Minister's remarks about the long-term future of the engineering construction training board.
Mr. Lloyd : The Minister says that a statement will be made in April, but we do not know now what will be the outcome. It would be outrageous if the Government were to destroy that board as they did the others, hard on the heels of the information that I have given the House about the collapse of training in the construction and allied industries.
Britain is sliding steadily backwards, and it will continue to do so as long as we have a Government who are anti-education and anti-training. The Government display no commitment to industrial training and offer no encouragement to train to those who are in work. They offer precious little encouragement to people out of work and to the next generation. The Government's failure to treat the engineering and construction industry training boards seriously will lead us to divide the House at the end of this debate.
Sir Michael Neubert (Romford) : Anniversaries are an uncomfortable reminder of the passage of time, but they also provide an opportunity to measure the advance and achievement of the year gone by. This annual debate gives the House such an opportunity. My interest in the construction order arises from my role as parliamentary adviser to the Federation of Master Builders. It is the third such debate in which I have taken part. Nothing much changes, except the Minister. It is never the same Minister twice. This afternoon, we are glad to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) to take her turn in starring at the Dispatch Box.
We always hear a major speech from a member of Labour's Front Bench. On the last occasion, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) took one third of the 90 minutes available for debate. This afternoon, we have three hours available, but again the hon. Gentleman has taken one third of the time. I hope that the Government do not give a full day on the next occasion because, if the hon. Gentleman were to speak for two hours, I am not sure that I have the stamina or bladder capacity to hear all that he had to say. I welcome one change. The Government have given this business prime time by putting it first on the Order Paper, and we should welcome the opportunity to bring the construction and engineering construction industries to the attention of the nation at this early hour, rather than debate them at some dark hour of the night when only Members of Parliament are around to listen.
There have been two main developments since our last debate. I welcomed the statement made two weeks after we last debated the future of the CITB, which was under review. I expressed my appreciation of the Government's action in recognising once again the unique character of that industry and accepting that it continues to warrant exemption from Government policy of looking to industries to make independent, employer-led arrangements to provide and to fund adequate training.
Column 912The case for exemption needs to be defended. A project's time span can be as short as three months. Larger projects, of course, may be measured in years, but there are not so many of them. The construction of the Palace of Westminster took 15 years, but today it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that one can see in Hong Kong the start and finish of an office building in the three weeks that one is on holiday there. The longer-term view is no longer available to the construction industry as to other industries, so a statutory levy makes sense. Otherwise, the cheap short cut would always be taken. The construction industry consists mainly of small firms, widely dispersed, engaged in a variety of activities. The work load is cyclical and vulnerable to changes in the economy, which makes manpower forecasting unfeasible.
The industry is highly mobile, the size of the workplace varies and businesses come and go with frightening frequency. At the same time, it is all too easy to start up a business, however inadequately trained or qualified a person may be.
The industry is therefore in a category of its own. As for health and safety, the very nature of the work in the construction industry involves much higher risks than the work in many other industries, so safe working practices are imperative, and training for safety must be given the utmost priority.
No employer would ever want to take on staff who, once they have qualified, go down the road and work for some other business, thus acting in competition with the original employer. Thus, a central statutory requirement is essential, and the need for a training levy proven. I thank the Minister for allowing the CITB an extended life of five years, thus giving it time to plan strategically for the training function of the future.
A second major development has been the improvement in the economy-- [Interruption.] Now that my voice has recovered its full vigour, I hope that the House will be interested to hear about the improvements in the economy. The depth and length of the recession were without precedent. We have been in uncharted territory. The economy seemed to turn the corner, but then it appeared that it had not done so. There are, however, real signs of recovery now. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, there is good news every day. That shows the difference between now and February of last year, when we were much less certain.
Mr. Graham : The other day I had a visitor from America who was travelling through from England to Scotland. He was appalled by the infrastructure problems that we face in Scotland and England--the potholes in the pavements and roads, and so on. He was shocked to find that the school that he had gone to was in a dilapidated condition and had no money for repairs.
One of the major problems, surely, has been that the Government have not injected enough cash into the infrastructure of public life, thereby employing more plumbers, electricians and builders. It is like the chicken and the egg : the Government are not prepared to train workers because they are happy with the short-term gains that arise from not putting enough money into public infrastructure. We will only get the construction industry going again, with real training, when the Government start putting money into public infrastructure to improve our
Column 913roads, schools and hospitals. That will never happen until the Government put their money where their mouth is-- that is the only way to get Britain back to work.
Sir Michael Neubert : I was rather surprised, on two counts, to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say, although I always listen carefully to his interventions. Although the United States has a powerful and successful economy, it also has areas of dereliction that are far worse than any in this country. I saw in a news bulletin from Michigan last night scenes of shocking dereliction. As for infrastructure, I was going on to refer in glowing terms to the Government's policy on infrastructure projects, on which the Government have a proud record.
I identify the following features of the economy as encouraging. First, we have low interest rates. Then, we have a low annual rate of inflation-- still below 2 per cent., and we have been below that figure for a record period. We have low wage settlements, high productivity and a competitive currency. All those are ingredients for economic growth.
The building industry, however, is slow to share in the benefits of increasing confidence and expansion. In recent years--notably in the autumn statement 15 months ago--the Government have offered commendable support to major infrastructure projects. That is a welcome boost for the construction industry, but those projects have only limited trickle-down benefits for small and medium-sized builders such as those which make up the membership of the Federation of Master Builders.
The Jubilee line extension is a prime example of a project given Government support. It is tragic that it took a year for the financiers to get their act together, although the difficulties are well understood. The recovery would have been further ahead if this major £1.9 billion project, creating 20,000 jobs, had been under way 12 months ago, but it was not to be. It is a good illustration of our negative news reports that, on the day that the project was clinched, it did not feature on the BBC's nine o'clock news until 9.25 pm, and then only fleetingly.
Crossrail is another project to which I hope the Government will give whole -hearted backing. It combines private and public finance and it could transform transport in London, enabling all those Americans who pass through on their way to Scotland to enjoy efficient public transport.
To show the state of the building industry I should like to draw attention to a submission made by the Building Employers Federation and the Federation of Master Builders. The submission was made jointly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27 October last--only three months ago, since when I am assured the position has not changed much.
Those organisations reported to the Chancellor :
"output has declined for 13 consecutive quarters since the beginning of 1990, making this the longest recession since the 1930s ; the value of output is now over 15 per cent. down on its peak, a significantly larger fall than in most other industries ; the housing market is still very fragile with sales well below expectations ; employment in the industry has fallen by about half a million since 1989, and there have been additional cuts in employment in our associated professions and in the building materials industry ; the length and depth of the recession has in turn led to very substantial and damaging reductions in our training and recruitment programmes for both apprentices and graduates. This now threatens the future capability and capacity of both small and large firms".